Category Archives: Film Review

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Farina Performances

Who knew that a Chicago ex-cop would go on to become one of the most recognizable and talented presences in Hollywood? Michael Mann did when he cast buddy Dennis Farina in Thief way back in the day, after which the actor went on to give us an absolutely captivating, scene stealing body of work in cinema and a career particularly in crime and comedy genres that is now legend. He could be funny as all hell and then turn downright dangerous at the drop of a hat, your affable best friend or grim worst enemy in any given scene and often simultaneously. Dennis is no longer with us but his epic career lives on every day, and here are my personal top ten characters he crafted!

10. Maurice Cantavale in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock

If you haven’t seen this lovely little film then get on that right away, because it’s an absolute charmer through and through. So basically Alan Rickman is a British wine connoisseur who travels across the pond to Napa valley for a competition to enter his wines. Farina is his neighbour, a travel guide entrepreneur who accompanies him for camaraderie, companionship and moral support. He’s a lovable teddy bear here who has adorable chemistry with Rickman and adds to an already terrific ensemble cast.

9. Henry DeSalvo in Barry Sonnenfield’s Big Trouble

In an ensemble cast that’s just about as packed as one 90 minute comedy can handle, he stands out as a super cranky hitman called into Miami to kill a asshole corrupt business exec (Stanley Tucci). He finds every obstacle possible thrown in his path though from rambunctious football fans (“we got gator fans!”) to overzealous security guards and everything else the city has to offer. His mounting exasperation and deadpan frustration is one of the highlights of this hilarious, underrated screwball comedy.

8. Lt. Mike Torello in Michael Mann’s Crime Story

Here he gets to channel his real life roots in playing a tough Chicago police detective trying to prevent an up and coming wiseguy (Ray Luca) from ascending to power in the city’s dangerous criminal underworld. A companion piece of sorts to Mann’s more popular Miami Vice, this is a fantastically produced crime epic that’s packed with guest stars, many of which went on to A-list fame. Dennis is grounded, angry, violent when he needs to be but imbues the character with compassionate hues as well, it’s a beautiful lead role in a career that’s mostly stocked with supporting turns.

7. Joe May in Joe Maggio’s The Last Rites Of Joe May

Another lead role yay! This is a fantastic little seen indie drama about ex Chicago hustler Joe May who is released from prison in his twilight years and discovers the streets, along with his capabilities, aren’t what they used to be. Farina sadly passed away a few years after this was released and as such it kind of stands as a swan song of sorts. It’s about age, the passage of time and ultimately redemption in the face of one’s own mortality, and he nails every aspect of theme/character flawlessly, and should have been nominated for all the awards.

6. Dick Muller in Jon Bokenkamp’s Preston Tylk aka Bad Seed

This little seen indie drama sees widower Luke Wilson in a disquieting game of cat and mouse with his deceased wife’s lover (Norman Reedus), both blaming each other for her untimely death. Dennis is the world weary private investigator Wilson hires to help him through the whole mess and it’s in their dynamic that a touching interaction is formed. This is a depressing, sad story that can only end messily overall but he finds the humour, pathos and uplifting notes to his performance and it’s one of my favourite of the lesser known ones.

5. Jimmy Serrano in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run

This guy is a piece of work, but a hilarious one. The grumpiest Chicago mobster you could ever find, he’s a violent, corrupt, short tempered prick who spends most of his scenes threatening his poor lawyer (Phillip Baker Hall) with extreme bodily harm and trying to track down Robert De Niro’s elusive bounty hunter with whom he has a decades old grudge with. It’s a flashy, really funny and engaging bad guy turn that manages to scare and I still laughs in equal measures.

4. Gus Demitriou in HBO’s Luck

This was a sadly short lived but magnificent series set in and around an LA horse racetrack and focusing on all sorts of individuals whose lives revolve around it. Dustin Hoffman is Chester, a parolee who walks a fine line between businessman and mobster, while Farina’s Gus is his driver, assistant, sounding board, business partner and overall good friend. The dynamic between these two is communicated brilliantly by the two actors and we get a real sense of Gus’s moral standpoint, goals and outlook on life.

3. Jack Crawford in Michael Mann’s Manhunter

A few guys have played the FBI’s head of behavioural science and while Scott Glenn’s turn will always be my favourite, Dennis made a fascinating version. In a career filled with intense and exuberant work he made his Crawford into an understated guy who works well with William Petersen’s equally inward Will Graham.

2. Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni in Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty

One pissed off Miami gangster who is none too happy to get called to LA on business, he gets the film’s best line when he begrudgingly proclaims to a taxi driver: “They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.” Dennis was a staple in film adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work and this is one of the pithiest, funniest in both his and the author’s rogues gallery.

1. Cousin Avi in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch

In an ensemble cast full of eclectic underground whackadoos, he *really* steals the show as a supremely sassy NYC gangster reluctantly dragged to London (which he hates) to track down a stolen diamond. Dennis’s energetic Chicago twang and Ritchie’s stylized flair for dialogue make this character sing, he gets many of the film’s funniest bits and is clearly having a ton of fun.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Powers Boothe Performances

Powers Boothe was one of Hollywood’s most understated yet grittiest badasses, a powerful, stone voiced presence who could vividly bring many characters to life including cowboys, corrupt politicians, stern law enforcement officers and more, always with the kind of steely eyed, half smirk charisma that suggested he’s holding a couple cards close to his chest for a fiercely explosive element to the performance arc later on. Unfortunately he is no longer with us but the vivid impression he left with his multiple, varied and always intense portrayals lives on every day. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Philip Marlowe in HBO’s Philip Marlowe: Private Eye

Many actors have taken a whack at playing this iconoclastic gumshoe, but Boothe’s turn remains the most charismatic, entertaining and also under the radar. This is kind of a long lost HBO miniseries that’s hard to find these days but his gruff, keen and dangerous version of Marlowe is a key touchstone of the man’s career.

9. Mace Ryan in Dwight H. Little’s Rapid Fire

Perhaps the crankiest big city narcotics task force commander that Chicago has ever seen, Ryan teams up with the late great Brandon Lee to viciously take down a heroin syndicate and fire as many guns as he can in the process. He’s loud, mean and always on edge here but underneath that bristled exterior there’s a warmth and strong moral compass that we see in his subtly paternal relationship with Lee’s character. I might add this is one of the most underrated martial arts/shoot out actioners of the 90’s.

8. Mayor Eo Jaxxon in Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City

Not many people paid attention to this short lived, balls out animated series but it’s a fucking gem. Basically like an Archer type cop show with that amazing 80’s neon pastel Miami Vice aesthetic that we all love, starring Rob Lowe as a cocky but ultimately dipshit big city cop. Boothe steals the goddamn show in one episode alone though as the brash, coke fuelled, megalomaniacal mayor. Sporting a crispy white suit and two snow leopards for pets, it’s the kind of voiceover performance that lets this mostly grave and serious actor have a fucking ton of fun and just be looney for a little while, he had a real untapped gift for comedy that was only really apparent in this role.

7. Curly Bill Brocius in George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone

Nothing beats the sight of villainous Brocius stumbling out of of an opium den, drawing his revolvers and deliriously shooting civilians for the sheer hell of it. Or his deadpan, nonchalant “Well… bye!” sardonically sneered at Wyatt Earp and his gang. He’s admittedly overshadowed and outlived by Michael Biehn’s ferocious antagonist Johnny Ringo but still makes a hell of an impression.

6. Cy Tolliver in HBO’s Deadwood

Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen gets much of the accolades here and rightfully so but Boothe’s rival saloon kingpin is an evil snake whose perverse, complex and twisted relationship with his chief whore (Kim Dickens) is a powerfully compelling dynamic.

5. Sheriff Virgil Potter in Oliver Stone’s U Turn

All of the townsfolk in Superior, Arizona are nasty, secretive snakes, Powers’ scary local sheriff included. He spends much of the film intimidating Sean Penn, getting silly drunk on spirits and not a whole lot of actually enforcing the law. When the third act revelations begin to play out and the noirish twists come along there’s a terrifying, blind drunk ferocity to his work that remains some of the best in a large, prolific cast.

4. Corporal Charles Hardin in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort

A well read, thinking man stuck in the military isn’t something you always expect to see in cinema every day but here he plays an educated Texan who is less than thrilled to be saddled with yokel fellow soldiers for a Louisiana National Guard training exercise that goes hellishly South. There’s a hard bitten nature to his resilience here as he and another survivor (Keith Carradine) in the unit do battle with dangerous Cajuns who know the terrain far better than them.

3. Senator Roark in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

His monologue about power in the first film was a chilling picture of ultimate evil and corruption, and then in the second we got to see him actually act on all that for one of the most memorable and heinous comic book baddies ever written. Gravel voiced, power-mad beyond reason, narrow eyed and psychopathic to the bone, Powers makes this guy one arch villain for the ages.

2. Cash Bailey in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice

The pimpest drug baron to ever wear a white suit and swig tequila, Cash is in a fierce turf war with childhood friend and Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) that erupts into bloody Peckinpah-esque madness. Boothe is slick, mean, magnetic, deftly verbose and creates one of the coolest, baddest dudes of action cinema here, whether he’s prophetically killing a scorpion or menacing his and Jack’s childhood sweetheart (Maria Conchita Alonso). What a character.

1. Bill Markham in John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest

Perhaps the most vulnerable and down to earth character he’s played, Bill is an industrial developer who loses his son at the edge of the vast Amazon rainforest, only to be reunited after a decades long search and the boy’s adoption into a Native tribe. He shows striking depth, compassion, determination and paternal instinct here, I love that Boorman cast him against type because he wound up giving what I consider to be a career best turn.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: William Fichtner’s Cold Brook

Oh hey another top ten of the year film for me. I love a good passion project, especially when the two artistic forces behind it are a couple beloved character actors who have spent much of their career in Hollywood playing villains, criminals, weirdos, bikers, aliens and all kinds of heavy stuff. William Fichtner’s Cold Brook sees the consistently brilliant actor team up with equally fantastic buddy Kim Coates for a charming, wonderfully simplistic tale of two small town dudes who make an incredible discovery.

Fichtner and Coates are Ted and Hilde, two lifelong pals who work as maintenance men for the college museum in their sleepy upstate NY town of Cold Brook. They each have a loving wife (played by Robin ‘Calamity Jane’ Weigart and Mary Lynn ‘Chloe O Brien’ Rajskub), kids and pretty much as cozy a life as anyone can hope for, complete with the kind of bromance that makes it obvious these two actors are tight in real life. Then one day a mysterious and deeply confused stranger (Harold Perrineau) shows up in the museum exhibit after hours and seems to follow them around after that like he has some purpose that even he doesn’t understand, and only our two boys can see him. It’s up to them to find out why this restless spirit has chosen them, what he wants and how to put him to rest while juggling the curious eyes of their wives, bosses and one campus security guard (Brad Henke) who takes his job just a bit too seriously.

This is low key, whimsical indie fare through and through and I downright fell in love. I’ve been following William and Kim’s career since I was a kid, they are two endlessly talented scene stealers and I can’t tell you how lovely and cathartic it was to see them just play a couple bros living and loving the small town life. They both shine brightly in their work here and Fichtner shows a steady hand in writing and direction here too, telling a story that clearly means a lot to him in broad, loving strokes. Perrineau is really effective as Gil the wandering spirit, seeming somehow perpetually lost but also pointedly soulful in each appearance. If you’re at all a fan of these two artists then I’d very strongly recommend this as you get to see them do the kind of work that Big Hollywood just doesn’t usually ever hire them for, something very personal to each and something that allows them the kind of freedom in expression that we as artists always dream of. Even if you’re not a huge fan it’s a beautiful little indie to watch on a cold rainy morning to warm the heart. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese closes a decade, much like he opened the 70s; crafting and birthing a deeply personal film that instantly stands to be marveled at, and is cause for celebration. The names Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel are all what legends are made of and once they are gone, they are instantly irreplaceable and each of them will become an idol of a time in human history where movies became cinema, and each one of them will become an iconic footnote of the lasting impression of art.

There is so much to take away from this picture. Yes, it is a cumulative capstone of a generation of artists who have become the living embodiment of cinema, while also revolutionizing computer generated de-aging to a point where it is not a gimmick, it becomes reality. It pushes past the boundaries of tentpole fatigue and allows these four actors to move fluidly throughout four decades, all the while teaching the viewer about the passage of time where the final destination is death.

The entire film is underplayed and painstakingly low key. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing glides at a steady pace, the performances are all somber as they are sublime, with the exception of Al Pacino who gives a magnetically hammy turn as James R. Hoffa. Robert De Niro’s transformative performance marks a new high as what it is to be stoic, and Joe Pesci gives such an anti-Pesci performance, he will linger with the audience long after the credits roll.

And then there is Harvey Keitel. It has been thirty-one years since Scorsese worked directly with Keitel and fifty-two years since the two first worked together on WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. Scorsese bestows the David Bowie in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST or Paul Sorvino in GOODFELLAS role to Keitel; the extended cameo that is so powerfully singularly due to casting, his presence hangs throughout the duration of the picture. It is an overly emotional re-teaming of the two strange bedfellows – the former Marine and devout Jew coupled with the anxious and hyper-obsessive artist whose Catholic guilt is worked out over the course of over fifty fruitful years of being the father of modern-day cinema. It is an absolute joy to bear witness as these two cinematic icons work together again in what will forever be Scorsese’s most seminal and grandiose work.

Inside the film, Scorsese sticks with the original title of I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES. And within it, he made his most self-aware picture that subtly references his career through music, atmosphere, location, and casting. He pulls in a cast representative of the many eras of his canon. His HBO era cast of Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, and Dominick Lombardozzi to his gangster-era casting of Paul Herman and Welker White to the new guard of Stephanie Kurtzuba, Bo Dietl and J.C. MacKenzie all play a prominent role of merging Scorsese’s entire career into one three and a half-hour film.

There is a moment in the film where De Niro is gifted a ring by Pesci, where the ring in question is only worn by three people: Keitel, Pesci, and now De Niro; signifying Scorsese’s three boys, and the ones who are most representative of cinema’s most important auteur and solidifying their status as cinematic titans.

Netflix has truly outdone themselves with putting all their support and money behind Scorsese and letting him do whatever he wants. There isn’t another entity in existence that would have let Scorsese do what he did with this picture, and their protection of not allowing a massive theatrical run is absolutely just.

I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, is Scorsese’s most import and cathartic work; and shows the audience about the embracement of death in a way that has never quite been conveyed on film. This is not a gangster film populated with slow-motion kill shots cued up to the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton; it is a deeply personal picture that is a goodbye from Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel.

B Movie Glory: Savage Dawn

It’s time for some schlocky 80’s biker trash. Savage Dawn is a cheap, sleazy, exceedingly noisy, obnoxious piece of dustbowl highway exploitation and I love every minute of it. Lance Henriksen is stoic ex green beret Stryker who drifts past a small town to visit his old army buddy (George Kennedy). Also blowing through the area is a pack of evil, vicious bikers led by sadistic Pigiron (William Forsythe, living up to that name and then some). Stryker just wants to chill out and have beers with his ol’ bud but Pigiron & Co. have other plans and the film is basically a loose, untethered series of ultra-violent run-ins with the gang, while other weirdo backwoods locals run in and out of the scenes all silly billy. Henriksen is the only actor here to play it remotely seriously, keeping that stone faced glare stolidly in place and dishing out beatdowns left and right. Forsythe is downright maniacal here, doing one of the best versions of his ‘psycho snarling hick shtick’ and chewing scenery like an evil tornado of redneck rambunctiousness. This was the first time these two tussled in a biker picture and would reunite again for Stone Cold in the 90’s, but that’s another story. The late Richard Lynch shows up as a feeble, horn-dog local preacher who gets in the way and the great Karen Black has a memorable turn as the loopy local slut. This ain’t nothing but bottom of the barrel street grease, there’s no way around it. But the actors sell it and there’s enough of them letting off steam to make this enjoyable, albeit fairly WTF in places. Gotta keep in mind that gnarly little nuggets like this were commonplace back then and sometimes I miss em.

-Nate Hill

Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn

It’s always cool for two of my top ten films of the year to find their way to me inside a week. A few days ago it was The Lighthouse and yesterday it was Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, a brilliant, sprawling noir epic that sees this accomplished artist behind the camera for only the second time in his career and in front of it for the first time since I can remember… I think the last thing I saw him in was that fourth Bourne film that didn’t even have Jason Bourne in it. He roars back into action commendably here as both writer and director in a passioned period piece that has a lot to say and one of those old school two plus hour runtimes to say it in as well as the kind of jaw dropping, star studded ensemble casts they just don’t bother to assemble much anymore.

In adapting Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Norton rewinds a 90’s setting back into the 50’s and comes up a winner playing Lionel Essrog, a private detective whose friend, mentor and father figure Frank (Bruce Willis lingers in a cameo you wish was more) is murdered by shady thugs whilst investigating the kind of lead that can only end in bloodshed. Lionel suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome in an era where medication, compassions and science are sorely lacking and has thus sadly earned the moniker ‘freak show’ by his peers. That doesn’t stop him from using gut intuition to continue Frank’s work, leading him down the obligatory NYC noir rabbit hole of Harlem jazz clubs, red herrings, betrayals, corrupt government officials and bursts of sudden violence meant as warning but there to juice up the intrigue. It’s a fairly serpentine web of lies and decades old secrets involving many characters brought to life by one hell of a cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw scores soulful points as an activist whose involvement runs far deeper than even she knows. Alec Baldwin gives a terrifying turn as an impossibly evil, truly bigoted mega city planner whose agenda to bulldoze poorer communities shows little remorse in character and allows the seasoned actor to provide what might be the best villain portrayal of the year. I didn’t think I’d be raving about Willem Dafoe two times in one week (he crushed his role in The Lighthouse) but the guy is on fuckin fire, bringing cantankerous warmth to a vaguer role I won’t spoil. Also in the mix are Michael Kenneth Williams as a mercurial trumpet player, Bobby Cannavle, Dallas Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Fisher Stevens, Cherry Jones, Robert Wisdom, Josh Pais, Peter Gray Lewis and Leslie Mann.

Considering that Norton’s director debut was a Ben Stiller romcom, its fairly heavy lifting to pivot over towards a two and a half hour period piece adapted from a revered novel but he pulls it off and then some. He directs the actors with snap and ease so we get organic, underplayed yet lasting impressions from each performance including his own, a very tricky role that never comes across as a gimmick. His affliction is never conveniently absent when the scene requires it and he makes sure to find the frustration, humour and lived-in aspects of Lionel’s personality. Baldwin’s character serves to represent the callous nature of real estate development conglomerates these days and the tendency to gloss over less fortunate folk like invisible downtrodden, or downright see them as lesser people. Norton, as both actor and director, gently explores this world with a compassion for areas in which some have more than less and focuses on themes until we get to see a powerful morality play unfold within the already tantalizing central mystery. This film sort of came out of nowhere (I don’t remember any marketing outside like a month before release?!) and isn’t making huge waves yet but it’s a powerful, funny, touching, detailed, beautifully acted and directed piece, one of the best thus far of the year.

-Nate Hill

The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta

As far as comparing The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta to its source material by Alan Moore, I may be one of the only few who feels like the film is an improvement. The graphic novel is beautifully written but bleak and drab in many instances where the film adopts a rich, full bodied and ever so slightly hopeful tone in the adaptation forage. I know Moore is somewhere out there in his yurt on the plains, reading my review on a 3G tablet and cursing my name, but oh well. Fierce political commentary, blitzkrieg action picture, careful interpersonal drama and more, this has aged well (scarily well depending on the angle one views it from) and holds up gorgeously fourteen November 5ths on since its release.

Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving make Stockholm Syndrome sexy again as Evey and V, two very different individuals whose lives have both been upended by the tyrannical, fascist British Government. He’s a vicious vigilante freedom fighter with scars on the outside and inside, she’s a wayward civilian swept up in his brutal quest to overthrow an evil dictator (John Hurt in beast mode), first as witness and later as accomplice. This involves a complex laundry list of various betrayals, sieges, escapes and terrorist acts, all brought to life in breathtaking spectacle. An underdog secret policeman (Stephen Rea, a study understated excellence) doggedly pursues them and questions his own loyalties, while the chosen date of Guy Fawkes day (hey, that’s today!) looms ever closer and with it V’s promise to blow the shit out of the parliament block.

V says it best when he growls: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” There are large scale, prescient ideas at work here and despite being based on a graphic novel it feels eerily akin to our own world. V is a product of this damaged, corrupt system who has become a monster and is now ready to administer horrific dark justice on those who wronged him, working his way up an increasingly grotesque chain of despicable politicians with grim resolve. There’s a righteous fury to his quest and no other actor could have better captured the fire and brimstone behind that mask like Weaving does, he works wonders with his voice alone. There’s a lot more action than in Moore’s novel but can you really blame the Wachowskis? They are incredible at staging set pieces and the character of V suits the swooping, knife throwing, roof leaping, swash, buckle and bloody bodily harm on display here. There’s a strong undercurrent of compassion and humanity here to, as seen in my favourite sequence of the film: Portman’s Evey is locked up in a government prison and ready to wade into despair before she finds a rolled up scroll detailing the story of the cell’s former roommate and her struggles during the rise of this horrible regime. It’s in this short flashback scene alone we see all that’s worth fighting for in the microcosm of one girl’s life and feel the justification of not just V’s violent rampage but the collective uprising it stirs in the people. Great film.

-Nate Hill